Not a Normal Mental-Health Disaster

According to the Atlantic, the psychological effects of the novel coronavirus will long outlast the pandemic itself. Looking at history and the SARS pandemic, in Hong Kong, only three months separated the first infection, in March 2003, from the last, in June. However the suffering did not end when the case count hit zero. Over the next four years, scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong discovered something worrisome. More than 40 percent of SARS survivors had an active psychiatric illness, most commonly PTSD or depression. Some felt frequent psychosomatic pain. Others were obsessive-compulsive. The findings, the researchers said, were “alarming.”

Looking at COVID-19, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the pandemic had negatively affected the mental health of 56 percent of adults. In April, texts to a federal emergency mental-health line were up 1,000 percent from the year before. The situation is particularly dire for certain vulnerable groups—health-care workers, COVID-19 patients with severe cases, people who have lost loved ones—who face a significant risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. In overburdened intensive-care units, delirious patients are seeing chilling hallucinations. At least two overwhelmed emergency medical workers have taken their own life.

According to Steven Taylor, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia and the author of The 2019 book ‘Psychology of Pandemics’, “the sorts of mental-health challenges associated with COVID-19 are not necessarily the same as, say, generic stress management or the interventions from wildfires. And in a nation where, even under ordinary circumstances, fewer than half of the millions of adults with a mental illness receive treatment, those large numbers are a serious problem. A wave of psychological stress unique in its nature and proportions is bearing down on an already-ramshackle American mental-health-care system, and at the moment, Taylor told me, “I don’t think we’re very well prepared at all.”

According to Joe Ruzek, a longtime PTSD researcher at Stanford University and Palo Alto University, “most disasters affect cities or states, occasionally regions. Even after a catastrophic hurricane, for example, normalcy resumes a few hundred miles away. Not so in a pandemic. In essence, there are no safe zones any more.”

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Source: Jacob S. The Atlantic. July 7, 2020

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